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Why nocturnal thunderstorms can be particularly dangerous

Wednesday, June 23rd 2021, 9:18 pm - Thunderstorms always present a danger, no matter what time of the day, but when they occur at night the risks can be greater, so you should be alert and thoroughly prepared.

Thunderstorms are most common during the afternoon hours, fuelled by energy from the sun, which warms the Earth’s surface and helps create instability in the atmosphere.

But the instability that powers storms can sometimes persist after sunset, creating the conditions for “nocturnal” or nighttime thunderstorms with frequent lightning that can illuminate the sky.

SEE ALSO: Lightning safety tips: What you need to know to stay safe

Thunderstorms always present a danger, no matter the time of day. In addition to frequent lightning and torrential rain, stronger storms can produce hazards including large hail, damaging winds, and localized flooding.

When thunderstorms occur after the sun goes down, the darkness can make them even more dangerous. So it's important to be aware, stay alert and be prepared for when there is the threat for nighttime thunderstorms in the forecast.

Visit our Complete Guide to Summer 2021 for an in-depth look at the Summer Forecast, tips to plan for it and much more!

WHY THE DANGERS CAN BE AMPLIFIED AT NIGHT

The greatest risk with nighttime thunderstorms is that they often catch people off guard. Conditions can change and become dangerous very quickly, while people are unaware or even asleep.

Storms usually weaken through the evening hours with the loss of daytime heating, however, this isn’t always the case. Under certain circumstances, storms can maintain their intensity well into the overnight.

NOAA/Unsplash nighttime thunderstorm (NOAA/Unsplash.)

According to Jessie Uppal, a meteorologist at The Weather Network, nocturnal thunderstorms are more difficult to forecast.

"Well, not only are they dangerous, but they are also more difficult to forecast and detect. These storms are typically elevated, meaning they form much higher above the surface over cooler air near the ground," said Uppal.

Some of the storm's elements may be difficult to see, including tornadoes, hidden by rainfall or hail, or just a lack of light, so this can pose an increased and unseen threat to safety.

While tornadoes typically occur during the daylight, when all the favourable dynamics are in place, they can still happen after dark.

Such was the case in Illinois recently. A tornado occurred in the Chicago area around 11 p.m. EDT. Approximately a dozen homes were damaged, and there were several injuries, CBS Chicago reported.

Most times that a confirmation of a tornado is occurring or imminent is through radar and/or trained spotters, so it's extremely important to keep up to date on forecast changes and developments.

HOW TO BE PREPARED, STAY SAFE DURING NOCTURNAL THUNDERSTORMS

The Canadian Red Cross and The Weather Network offer a number of tips on what to do before, during and after thunderstorms, which applies to them occurring at night.

When Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) alerts Canadians to risky conditions, The Weather Network distributes those warnings on this website, on television, on smartphones through the apps, by text messages and to other broadcasters through the Alert Ready public-safety messaging system.

Before

During

  • When thunder roars, go indoors. If you're still outside at night during a thunderstorm, immediately seek shelter or a safe place to wait out the storm. Watch for signs of a storm, like darkening skies, lightning flashes or increasing wind
  • Stay away from windows
  • Unplug appliances
  • Do not use the telephone
  • Avoid running tap water

After

  • Continue to take precautions and listen to and follow directions from local authorities
  • Listen to local news and weather reports

Thumbnail courtesy of NOAA/Unsplash.

Nathan Howes can be followed on Twitter: @HowesNathan.

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